by CANDICE Y. CEREZO
STO. DOMINGO, ILOCOS SUR (OFW Journalism Consortium)–SQUASH, for some Europeans, refers to the sport. For farmers here, it’s the raw material gestating a business partnership with overseas Filipino workers.
As the year ends, this town may squeeze profits from selling a novel product from that raw material: canton-style noodles from squash –the vegetable, not the sport.
Ernesto Tadeja, chief of the joined villages of Sto. Tomas and Nambaran in the town of Sto. Domingo, said OFWs have been seeking their barangay for balikbayan boxes of the noodles.
The new orders are swelling his heart.
“This means not only an additional income to our cooperative but a bit by bit expansion of the business. Who would not want to sell abroad?” said Tajeda, president of the Association of Barangay Chairmen (ABC).
He said OFWs bringing the squash canton abroad may mean more referrals and customers asking about their product.
Tajeda is also banking on the OFWs to place on the tourism string their town, just an hour-drive from Vigan.
Who knows? Maybe more OFWs who would one day take a vacation in Ilocos Sur would look for our town to get bulk orders, Tajeda said.
Sto. Tomas and Nambaran are two of the smallest villages in the town of Sto. Domingo in Ilocos Sur.
Of the 94 households, Tajeda claims there are about 20 OFW households composed of either migrants or OFWs.
This is where they started channeling their promotion of squash canton outside the country, he said.
“We wish to expand. We would want to get the support of OFWs so that if ever they go back here, they could purchase our product, bring it to Manila, then abroad.”
Tajeda said Filipinos returning here would usually buy a box containing 98 packs of the 250-gram noodles.
They sell a 250-gram pack for P25 (more than half a dollar) when bought in their locality but charge P30 per pack if the product is sold in Manila.
Tajeda said they are selling each pack higher to OFWs.
He didn’t say how much the Filipinos are selling each pack abroad or if they’re selling them at all.
WITH the increased order from OFWs for squash canton noodles, the community of agrarian reform beneficiaries in this village has been heating up things.
Steam swirls above three large woks lined in an open area, manned by farmers of the Metro Nambaran Multi-Purpose Cooperative.
A woman farmer lifts a ladle, cooking oil dripping from noodles.
She and the other farmers were frying the last few batches of the noodles.
Tajeda said that although there already is the sayote canton, their novel canton is the very first variety of canton made of squash in the country.
“Other canton noodles sold in public markets are just made of flour and food coloring. It lacks the nutrients ours have, like beta-carotene or Vitamin A,” Tajeda claims.
Squash canton is made from a mixture of egg, squash, and salt.
A farmer places the fried noodles on wax paper, allowing these to dry.
Others are wrapping in plastic the dried and crunchy noodles, formed into a square, and placing them inside balikbayan boxes.
Tajeda said the squash canton noodles have already started to gain ground in Filipino communities in Hawaii and in the state of California, both in the USA, and in Canada.
He claims there was a time that municipal Mayor Floro Tadena brought migrants from Hawaii to buy squash canton from them.
Benito Austria Jr. of the agrarian reform department said since most of these migrants are Ilocanos, they became very supportive of the product from their hometown.
These are the sacadas (farm workers) or sugarcane planters who were recruited by Hawaiian sugar planters during the first wave of migration in the early 1900s, Austria, Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR)-Ilocos Sur’s information officer, added.
GEMMA Tablada, development facilitator of the cooperative, said the move to produce noodles from squash came after a surplus in producing a hybrid variety of the vegetable.
The community began growing squash from an Asian Development Bank-funded project in 2002.
With supply overshooting demand, squash began rotting.
“This forced us to find ways to salvage the surplus, to put to good use the leftover squash,” Tablada explained.
After training on cooking noodles in 2003, a group of farmers began successfully mixing squash with the other ingredients for making noodles.
Every month, cooperative members harvest at least ten tons of squash from the two-hectare land they are cultivating for squash growing.
With access to government funds, the cooperative was able to build a warehouse worth P422,000 (US$10,293 at US$1=P41).
The group was also able to tap P100,000 from the DAR for production capital. The government’s One Town-One Product program also released P200,000, enabling the cooperative to buy a mixer and a kneading machine and a noodle-fry housing equipment.
Every week, the 114-member cooperative produces 50 kilos of squash noodles.
Using roughly the P722,000 in financial inputs, this meant the cooperative was spending roughly P278 every week for production of the squash canton noodles.
Tajeda said that presently, 11 members of the cooperative cook noodles twice a week.
In a few years time, they dream of needing more cooks to work eight hours a day. The same people would also be packing the noodles for delivery. Each pack serves five.
Though still slow in progress, Tajeda said the cooperative has received requests for supply of their product to local restaurants in nearby towns and a catering business in Bantay, Ilocos Sur, aside from OFWs.
He added they are building a trade center downtown where they would soon sell the noodles.
While their participation in trade fairs in Metro Manila has slowly helped them penetrate local consumption in the country, Tajeda said they first focused on pitching marketing to Filipinos abroad to further expand foothold overseas.
At the moment, they consider the squash canton noodles as a squashing –er, smashing success.